Teach young children to see their own words and actions affect others.
Toddlers and preschoolers view the world through their own experiences and often have a hard time recognizing another person’s perspective. Focusing on their own wants and needs above those of other people can make them less likely to share and more likely to experience conflict. On the other hand, children who are good at perspective taking are usually less likely to tease, blame or bully others.
Given the importance of perspective taking in facilitating positive human interactions, it’s surprising that it doesn’t have a more prominent place in preschool curriculum. When children can reflect on how someone else’s thinking may differ from their own, they are better equipped to assess the intentions and expectations of other people. As a result, they can better handle conflict and even adjust more successfully to school. Just as toddlers and preschoolers must learn independence skills—dressing themselves, feeding themselves, potty training—we must teach children how to be with others. They need to be reminded of how other people feel and how their own words and actions affect others.
Building a trusting parent-child relationship plays a key role in promoting perspective taking skills in children. You can help children feel known and understood by getting down to their eye level when you have something to share. Instead of getting angry when your child loses his or her cool, say, “You must be very upset about something.”
When you provide opportunities to talk about feelings, and also share that you "know how that feels,” you create a safe space for exercising perspective-taking muscles. When children disagree, urge them to consider what the other person may be thinking. Encourage them to think about the effect their words or behavior can have on other people.
Thankfully, it’s easy and fun to practice perspective taking through something children love to do: play pretend.